Jackson Heights’ newest elementary school has been renamed to honor the late labor leader Héctor Figueroa, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
Figueroa was the president of 32BJ SEIU and a resident of Jackson Heights before he suffered a heart attack and died in July at the age of 57.
“Héctor Figueroa was the embodiment of the fight for fairness and justice,” de Blasio said. “His legacy lives on across the entire city, from workers who now have benefits they deserve to those who continue to draw inspiration from his mission. Now, children from this school will see his name daily and learn how to take action for what is right.”
Rosedale resident Kyle Bragg replaced Figueroa as the leader of 32BJ.
“Héctor loved Queens as a place where families from all over the world learned to call each other neighbors, friends and family,” Bragg said. “That’s why we are so glad his name and legacy will have a chance to live on in the county he called home, where he was so happy to raise his family and work to make things better for all families.”
P.S. 398, which opened for the first time this year, was renamed The Héctor Figueroa School. The school currently serves 117 pre-K and kindergarten students and will eventually go on to serve 476 students ranging from pre-K through fifth grade.
“Héctor Figueroa was a true champion for the rights and dignity of workers, and he fought tenaciously for families to be able to enjoy better lives,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said. “It is fitting that his legacy will be kept alive by the renaming of this school, where children in the borough he proudly called home will be afforded the quality education they will need to succeed in both the workplace and in life.”
Figueroa represented more than 175,000 security guards, school cleaners, doormen and airport workers. He was a leader in the Fight for 15, a grassroots effort by fast food workers for a higher minimum wage which began in New York City before spreading across the country.
“Throughout his lifetime, Héctor Figueroa fought selflessly for all working people,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said. “This is a wonderful way for our community to preserve Figueroa’s legacy as a brilliant economist and champion for equality, while honoring his name and teaching the students of PS 398 about Figueroa’s amazing influence in the world.”
Figueroa was born into the labor movement in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where his parents were teachers. He moved to the United States in 1982 after participating in a student strike.
“Héctor came from a family of educators, which is why he was so good at teaching all of us where the right side of an issue was and how organizing was the best path forward,” City Councilman Donovan Richards said. “I am a better elected official today because of him and I know this new school will ensure that the students of Queens will be better at paving the patch for NYC to move forward.”
Under Figueroa’s presidency, 32BJ grew by over 50,000 members and passed dozens of local and state policies protecting and lifting working families up and down the East Coast.
“Héctor spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of working class and immigrant New Yorkers, including access to education, better working conditions, and respect for human rights,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said. “The Héctor Figueroa School will serve hundreds of families, many of them immigrants directly impacted by the policies he fought so hard for. I can’t think of a more beautiful tribute to his dedication and I look forward to children and families honoring his legacy for years to come.”